Yellow Vest protests
Named after the neon safety jackets that are mandatory in all French vehicles, the so-called “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests) movement began in mid-November 2018 as a protest against rising fuel prices and a planned hike in tax on diesel and carbon fuels and soon mushroomed into a wider revolt against stagnant wages and the high cost of living. Scattered and leaderless, it was strongest in neglected peripheral regions but brought rallies – and rioting – to some of the poshest districts of Paris.
The Yellow Vests have widespread backing. In a survey conducted by the Elabe institute for broadcaster BFMTV in early December 2018, 46 percent of the French say they “support” them while 26 percent “sympathise” with their cause.
On 01 July 2018 the speed limit on two lane highways without a central reservation has been cut from 90km/h to 80km/h. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe believes the move will save 300 to 400 lives a year. The government’s decision to lower the speed limit was a vital, and often overlooked, factor in the explosion of rural and outer-suburban fury. Rural drivers were convinced that the Metropolitan elite was imposing yet a new hidden tax – in the form of even more speeding fines – on a suffering and allegedly despised Peripheral France. The 80 kph limit was seen as an arrogant imposition by a remote technocracy. “They” had no conception of how frustrating and time-wasting it was to trundle along straight two-lane roads between towns 30 or 40 kilometres apart. By April 2019 over 75 percent of the country’s radar speed traps had been destroyed or vandalised since the Gilets Jaunes protests began in November 2018. More than 100 extra people had died on French roads compared to the previous year, and they could be considered victims of the movement.
The French government suspended planned tax increases on gasoline that sparked several days of violent protests on the streets of Paris. In November 2018 Macron announced a fuel tax hike as part of a plan to transition France from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in an effort to combat climate change. Angry Parisians donned the distinctive yellow traffic vests French motorists are required to carry in their cars and flooded the streets of the historic city on November 17 to protest the price hike. The "yellow vest" protests quickly grew and evolved into demonstrations against Macron himself, denouncing him as indifferent to the problems of ordinary people. The demonstrations turned violent as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who had built barricades and brought down traffic lights and street signs.
Three weeks of "Yellow Vest" protests have hit the French economy hard with trade in retailers, hotel chains, high-street stores and restaurants falling significantly, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on 03 December 2018. Le Maire said sector revenues had been hit by between 15 and 50 percent. While not providing a precise breakdown, Le Maire said small retailers had seen a fall in revenue of between 20 and 40 percent, the hotel industry was seeing reservations down 15 to 25 percent. Restaurants, depending on their location, had seen takings collapse by between 20 and 50 percent.
While the violence in downtown Paris stunned the country, waves of protests have also targeted road infrastructure, with a another potential impact on the economy. Prime Minster Edouard Philippe announced 04 December 2018 in a nationally televised address that the new fuel tax, which was set to go into effect on January 1, would be put on hold for six months. "No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," Philippe said in his address. He said the protesters made it clear that "work must pay."
The approval ratings of President Macron and Prime Minister Philippe's hit new lows amid the protests. Macron's approval rating fell to 23 percent in the poll conducted late November, down six points on the previous month. Philippe's rating fell 10 points to 26 percent.
Despite French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement that he was abandoning a proposed fuel tax, "Yellow Vests" protests continue under the banner "All to the Elysee" on 08 December 2018 in Paris, a reference to the Elysee Palace, where the president of the republic officially resides. Earlier, authorities announced that they would close the Eiffel Tower on the day of the upcoming December 8 demonstration, citing safety concerns. The Louvre, the Delacroix arts museum and the Tuileries Garden were closed as well.
The representatives of the Yellow Vests have listed all their claims in a document that was sent 28 Novemer 2018 to the Minister of the Ecological and Solidarity Transition François de Rugy. In this text, there were proposals that go far beyond the question of purchasing power. As the Yellow Vests explained, these proposals come from a survey posted on various support groups of the movement. 30,000 people would have taken part. Here are all of these claims, as presented by the representatives. They were published on 23 November 2018 on Facebook by the Yellow Vest Maxime Nicolle, aka "Fly Rider".
- Reduce all taxes
- Creation of a citizens' assembly
Other proposals, on transport and ecology:
- Reduction of the TICPE as well as the carbon tax
- Suppression of the bill to ban non-road diesel "red fuel oil" (for farmers)
- Prohibition of glyphosate
- Cancellation of the biofuel bill with palm oil (shale gas, GMOs)
- Abandonment of the project to renew the French car fleet in electric and marketing of biofuels
On an institutional reform
- Consultation of the people more frequent, by national referendum but also local
- Suppression of the Senate
- Recognize and count the white vote in the various election ballots
- Promulgation of laws by the citizens themselves
On employment and businesses
- Decrease in employer charges
- Increased public financial support for permanent hiring on fixed-term contracts as well as for apprenticeship contracts: More particularly accentuated for hiring people with reduced mobility; Favoring non-precarious jobs
- Increase of the SMIC. Revalorise accordingly the calculation of the family quotient
- Help to return to employment or professional reconversion through effective and rewarding training
- Respect the gender balance: alignment of the qualification and the position held at equal pay
To fight against precariousness
- Increase in pensions
- End of special schemes [for pensions]
- Reassessment of Housing Allowance (APL)
- Increased student financial assistance for settlement, mobility and culture
- Retirement to the same calculation for all
In favor of the reduction of the public accounts budget
- Significant reduction in the salaries of government members
- Abolition of privileges (salaries after term, fictitious jobs, allowances)
- Control of expense claims of elected officials
- Compulsory physical presence of elected representatives in Assembly
For education, culture or health
- Creating a real POSTBAC
- Inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of society
- Access to culture for all
- Decrease in assistantship
- Deletion of Article 80 (paramedics)
- Total proportional restatement of the inheritance tax scale
Two main propositions
More than 1,700 people were arrested across France during the "yellow vest" protests 08 December 2018 as demonstrators clashing with riot police caused more damage in Paris than a week earlier. Protesters set fire to cars, burned barricades and smashed windows in pockets of violence across the city centre, clad in their emblematic luminous safety jackets, as armored vehicles rolled through the streets. City authorities said the 'yellow vests' had caused "much more damage" than on December 1 protests. "The sector concerned by the incidents was much larger... With fewer barricades, there was much more dispersion, so many more places were impacted by violence," Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told France Inter radio.
The interior ministry said some 136,000 people took part in Saturday's protests across France, around the same number as on December 1. This was rather less than the 300,000 who showed up for the first day of demonstrations.
Macron's long-awaited concessions on 10 December 2018 left most protesters dissatisfied and the broader public on the fence. Macron promised immediate steps to address the “economic and social state of emergency” highlighted by the protests. They included a state-funded €100 supplement to the minimum wage starting at the New Year along with the abolition of taxes on overtime pay – a measure previously introduced by former president Nicolas Sarkozy and then scrapped by his successor, François Hollande. Macron also pledged tocancel a tax hike on small pensions, acknowledging it was “unjust”.
Macron caved in to protesters by scrapping a fuel tax increase slated for January, a core demand of the protesters, who mainly live in rural areas and smaller towns and rely heavily on their cars. As was widely expected, the centrist president said he would not reinstate the highly symbolic wealth tax that was previously levied on France’s richest households. Upon entering office last year, Macron scrapped the lucrative tax on everything except property assets – a move his critics routinely describe as the “original sin” that shattered France’s social contract. The measures are expected to cost an estimated €10 billion ($11.4 billion).
A clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over tax hikes on transport fuel before snowballing into wider opposition to Macron's pro-business agenda and style of governing. But two polls published on 11 December 2018 -- in the wake of Macron's concessions -- suggested the country was now split broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue. Just under half (49 percent) of people surveyed by the OpinionWay institute said they found Macron “convincing”, with between 60 percent and 78 percent approving his measures when taken one by one. While 66 percent said they continued to support the Yellow Vest movement, more than half (54 percent) said they wanted the protests to end. According to another survey, by pollster Odoxa, the same percentage continues to support the roadblocks and other demonstrations – although this number has dropped from the 66 percent who expressed a similar opinion three weeks ago.
Defiant "Yellow Vest" demonstrators faced off against thousands of police across France Saturday 15 December 2018, but this fifth and decisive weekend for the anti-government movement indicated it may be running out of steam. The interior ministry said 66,000 protesters had been counted across France by early evening, down from 125,000 last week. Police in Paris fired water cannon and teargas to disperse groups of protesters in sporadic clashes on the Champs-Elysées and adjacent streets. Brief clashes were also reported in the western cities of Nantes and Bordeaux, but elsewhere the protests were largely peaceful.
The 'yellow vest' protests, which rought particular chaos to Paris over the past few weeks, clearly abated 22 December 2018, as the Christmas holiday season began in earnest. Much of France, but particularly Paris, had endured weeks of protest by a nationwide movement that at times descended into violence. Ten people had died since the start of the movement mid-November, mostly in traffic accidents. The number of protesters demonstrating on Paris' Champs Elysees was down sharply on recent weeks as an appeal for a sixth straight Saturday of protests across France appeared to fall on deaf ears. In a stark contrast to the chaos of previous weekends, tourists strolled down the avenue near the Arc de Triomphe and perhaps the capital’s grandest boulevards remained open for traffic.
The French Prime Minister Eduard Philippe announced 07 January 2018 the government’s new approach to yellow vest demonstrations involving legal blocks to prevent unsanctioned protests. After seven weeks of protests, the French government — still unable to calm popular discontent directed towards President Emmanuel Macron’s austerity policies — scrambled to find ways to stomp out the demonstrations. The response was largely security-oriented, “updating the law in order to sanction those who do not respect this obligation to declare protests, those who take part in undeclared protests, and those who arrive at protests with balaclavas,” said Philippe. In addition, the Prime Minister remarked on the banning of “troublemakers” during protests, curtailing of the use of masks, and the deployment of an additional 80,000 members of the security forces during the next expected wave of protests.
Macron remained reluctant to change course and meet the yellow vest demands — a referendum on a wide range of national issues and the restoration of the tax on France's wealthiest citizens. Quite the opposite, he was preparing a series of measures implementing sanctions against unemployed people and cutting thousands of public sector jobs.
French citizens participated in the 10th weekly nationwide mobilization against austerity policies and social inequality 19 January 2019. The French authorities ordered a major police deployment on the tenth consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vests demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron. Some 80,000 agents have been mobilized throughout the country; some 5,000 in Paris. The Parisian monuments and buildings were surrounded by riot police to allegedly prevent seizure by the Yellow Vests. In the French capital, the main concentration of demonstrators started at the Esplanade des Invalides, near Napoleon's tomb. The Ministry of the Interior foresees some 84,000 demonstrators protesting throughout the country. This was the first protest day after President Macron proposed a "Great National Debate," which would facilitate citizen complaints, channeled through dialogue. Yellow Vests spokesmen have criticized Macron's proposal as a distracting action to reduce the strength of street protests. French social media journalist Vincent Glad called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg the Yellow Vest movement’s “best ally”. Glad wrote for the left-leaning daily Libération “The movement has without a doubt been helped by the new Facebook algorithm that overemphasises content from groups to the detriment of content posted by pages (and therefore by media outlets).... After a few likes for a group, we find ourselves submerged with that group’s content in our news feeds. The new algo pushed the Yellow Vests into a ‘filter bubble’ in which they hardly see content anymore that isn’t yellow.”
Awareness has been growing around the world about an online phenomenon known as the "filter bubble." It's a phrase that was coined around 2010 to describe the situation where people inadvertently block out information they don't want and surround themselves with an echo chamber of material that matches their personal tastes. The filter bubble is seen as a consequence of the spread of social media and search engines using algorithms to personalize the user experience.
On 09 December 2018, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the country's foreign minister, said that the French Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security (SGDSN) was investigating reports of Russia's alleged meddling in the so-called yellow vest rallies that have been raging in France. This came on the heels of a Times of London report that hundreds of allegedly Russia-linked Twitter accounts were found to be fuelling the yellow vest rallies by posting pictures of injured protesters and retweeting posts connected to the unrest. Russia considers protests in France to be an internal affair of that country, has not interfered in other states' affairs, claims of Russia's involvement in French protests are slander, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "I would like to say that Russia considers everything that happens purely an internal affair of France. We have not interfered and are not going to interfere in the internal affairs of any countries, including France," Peskov told reporters.
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), said on 05 February 2019 he had met with "yellow vest" protesters in France. "The wind of change has crossed the Alps," he said after meeting French protest leader Christophe Chalencon. Di Maio and his coalition partner, hard-right League head Matteo Salvini, have thrown their support behind the "yellow vest" protesters roiling neighboring France. "We have many shared points of view and values which place citizens, social rights, direct democracy and the environment at the center of many battles," Di Maio's office said in a statement.
French Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner admitted, on 14 February 2019 that about 8,400 people have been arrested since the Yellow Vests demonstrations began on Nov. 17, 2018. So far, some 1,800 of the detainees have already been convicted while 1,500 protesters are reportedly still awaiting trial, and another 316 Yellow Vests have outstanding arrest warrants. Castaner said that 1,300 police officers and firefighters have been injured and stressed that "degradation and aggression will be punished." The minister of the Interior, who described demonstrators as "small groups animated by hatred," is opposed to an amnesty, which was suggested by several opposition spokespersons. "The government of France opposes any amnesty for the Yellow Vests", Castaner stressed.
Yellow vest protesters set fire to stores and clashed with police in a return to violence on the streets of Paris 16 March 2019. Organizers were trying to give new momentum to their movement, after weeks of dwindling numbers. Police said 42 protesters, 17 of their own officers and one firefighter were injured during a day of violence that followed weeks of relative calm. Nearly 240 protesters were arrested, out of an estimated 10,000 participants. The yellow vest protests had appeared to diminish in recent weeks, with some 28,600 protesters counted nationally at the previous week's demonstrations, and 3,000 in Paris — a far cry from earlier figures. When the protests began, some 300,000 people were involved in a day of action to block roads.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered another 5 billion euros worth of tax cuts and government reforms as a way to appease Yellow Vest protesters but insists the French must “work more” in turn. In the first major press conference of his presidency, lasting for over two hours, on 25 April 2019 Macron said he wanted to implement “significant” income tax cuts amounting to €5 billion ($5.56 billion) or so, but that government spending would have to be cut and the French would have to put in longer work hours. “We must work more, I’ve said it before. France works much less than its neighbors. We need to have a real debate on this,” Macron said. Macron promised a constitutional reform to facilitate a "differentiated" decentralization and a greater ctitizen's participation in public affairs. He also vowed that no more schools or hospitals will be closed "without the majority's agreement" until 2022.
Macron’s measures were aimed at placating the Yellow Vests (gillets jaunes), which started out as a protest against a gas tax last year. They have gathered for 23 Saturdays in a row as of this week, and attempts by police to disperse them have frequently turned violent. Macron had already offered them €10 billion ($11.1bn) in tax cuts and income subsidies for the working poor and pensioners, back in December 2018, to no avail.
France's Yellow Vests staged their 24th weekend protest in the main cities of France Saturday 27 April 2019, demanding real changes in the economic policy of President Emmanuel Macron who announced Thursday a set of emergency measures that did not calm the French population. In Paris, the country's capital, the largest demonstration was convened by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) with the support of left-wing parties such as Unsubmissive France (LFI) and the French Communist Party (PCF).
The weekly protests had all but ground to a halt but picked up again in July 2019 after French lawmakers approved the ‘CETA’ EU-Canada trade deal, which opponents say undermines the bloc’s social and ecological regulations by importing products made under conditions that would not be allowed in Europe. The Yellow Vests movement started holding rallies in France in November 2018 over the government's plan to increase fuel taxes. While the French authorities have abandoned the idea, protesters continue to hold demonstrations across the country every weekend. The head of the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) watchdog, Brigitte Jullien, told France’s Libération on 05 August 2019 that 288 investigations into the alleged unjustified use of force against anti-government protesters had been launched since November 2018. The movement initially mobilised tens of thousands of demonstrators nationwide each Saturday, although it since fizzled out to smaller numbers.
Thousands of protesters rallied in cities across France on 07 September 2019 in a fresh attempt to galvanize support for the Yellow Vest movement after demonstrations tapered off during the summer. The largest Yellow Vest protest of the day occurred in the southern city of Montpellier. Officials reported that 2,000 people gathered there, while organizers put the number somewhere closer to 5,000. Yellow Vest organizers had long seen Montpellier as a stronghold for the movement and called for a major demonstration in the city.
Smaller rallies were also held in other cities around France including Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Rouen, Lille, Strasbourg, Dijon, and Bordeaux. In Paris, police reported that they detained 89 people and issued 60 cautions, but the rally — which was smaller than at the height of the Yellow Vest protests but larger than in recent weeks — passed off peacefully.
Police fired tear gas as Yellow Vest protesters blocked a major road and erected barricades in Paris 16 November 2019, marking one year since the nationwide demonstration movement began sweeping the country. Clashes broke out at Place d’Italie downtown and near Porte de Champerret on the city’s outskirts. More than 270 protest events were planned to take place across France over the weekend. Thousands rallied in Paris alone, celebrating a full year since the inception of the Yellow Vest movement last November. While the protesters never quite numbered the original 300,000, they still turn out every Saturday.
As the ‘Yellow Vests’ protests in France come full circle, some vowed to keep fighting for a more just society, while others believe the movement has gone too far. Though rattled, the system they rose up against is still in power. Every Saturday for a year now, tens of thousands of people all over France have taken to the streets, fed up with not just the neoliberal and austerity policies of President Emmanuel Macron, but apparently the entire political system of the Fifth Republic. The government has gone after them in force, pushing the police to their breaking point. The mainstream media has demonized them as anti-Semites, homophobes, far-right. Nevertheless, the 'Yellow Vests' (Gilets Jaunes) have persisted.
Exact numbers are difficult to come by, but French media estimate that over 10,000 people have been detained over the past year. Some 3,000 have been prosecuted and over 400 sentenced to jail time. The carnage on the street has been real as well: 11 people have died over the course of the protests, and over 500 were injured. Not quite a revolution, but definitely not business as usual, the 'Yellow Vests' defy categorization. Though maybe not attracting the numbers they once did, the Gilets Jaunes are still going strong.
After pausing for the coronavirus lockdown and summer holidays, 12 September 2020 the Yellow Vests brought their anger back to the streets for a series of protests in Paris and a number of other French cities. The schools were back and so too were the Yellow Vest protests. The first Yellow Vest protests since March in Paris and in several large provincial cities is a test for the government under its new prime minister, Jean Castex. There was the fear of another outbreak of violence on the Champs-Elysées where all gatherings have been banned. Shopfronts have been boarded over and barricades erected even though no protests are officially allowed. According to police sources, 4,000 to 5,000 demonstrators were expected in Paris, including potentially violent ‘black bloc’ protesters.
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